Sarah Chang is a violin virtuoso with a heart as big as her talent. Her residency with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO), spanning January 16 through 25, has been filled with Chang visiting schools with young students, as well as all six venues where NJSO plays. The first NJSO program of her residency was the weekend of January 16–18 and I attended her visit, at the end of the weekend, to Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.
Arriving well before the concert is advisable as parking is generally free in Morristown and can be hard to come by closer to performance time. The weather was not cooperative, but early arrivals were treated to a delightful panel discussion moderated by Gemma New, Associate Conductor of NJSO. Featured were the three soloists for the first act of the program, soprano Elena Perroni, soprano Heather Stebbins, and tenor Roy Hage, who are all students at the renowned Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. The conversation ranged from the difficulties of learning a non-romance language for singing—as Perroni and Hage needed to learn Russian for their Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky love duet from “Romeo and Juliet”—to the arduous audition and selection process Curtis students endure to attend, to the oddest words that become anchor points as you learn a song—“horse” for Stebbins, in “Give me some music” from Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” Brilliantly setting the stage for what was to come, the lecture was over all too soon.
The first act began with Antonín Dvořák’s “Othello” Overture, as this year’s NJSO Winter Festival celebrates composer’s interpretations of Shakespeare’s work and themes. Starting with the love duet, micro-staged since the performance space encompassed less room than a phone booth, Perroni and Hage still conveyed the sense of burgeoning intimacy of two newly united souls. Hage had mentioned he began as a baritone. He had all of the high notes one would expect of a full lyric tenor, along with the warmth and richness the bari-influence provides. Perroni’s Juliet was graceful with soaring moments that were delicious to behold. Stebbins commanded the two Barber selections, the aforementioned one and “Give me my robe,” and there was no doubt Cleopatra was in the house. Stebbins showed the many facets of the queen who is yet a woman with a heart to be won, and lost, and the first act came to a close leaving us all a great deal to consider.
The second portion of the show began with Frederick Delius’ “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” from “A Village Romeo and Juliet.” The opera itself, written by Delius and his wife Jelka, is an operatic rarity but this orchestral gem is performed much more often. Plus, it whetted the appetite for the course to come–David Newman’s custom-tailored treatment, “The ‘West Side Story’ Suite,” written expressly for Chang.
Sarah Chang is a presence! Jim Roe gave us a vignette, in his pre-curtain speech, about Chang as a teacher and how she connected with children in the classes she visited in the Newark area, as well as the inspiration she provides. Resplendent in a red, sweetheart neckline dress, she soon showed us why it was necessary for her arms to be free–she is a whirlwind of activity, energy in corporeal form that is under complete command, yet has frissons of electricity arcing here and there, from bow, from hands, from stance—spectacular movement from theme to theme with a richness that only adds to the excitement. I will be on hand for the second program, featuring Sir Edward Elgar and Erich Wolfgang Korngold works as a prelude and am eagerly anticipating the second hearing of this magnificent work in the hands of genius.
Join me this weekend. Get your tickets today at www.njsymphony.org